Picture a picnic table in your mind. What do you see? For me, it’s the red-stained, cross-buck style with built-in benches from my backyard and so many park picnics. Those tables feature bolt-together construction and common materials. However, they don’t really stand up well to the elements. And the benches can be tough for some to get in and out of.
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Download the Plan for this episode.
For this episode, we share an upgraded table design that checks all the same boxes: easy-to-build and familiar materials. The base of the table uses dadoes along with stainless steel hardware and mortise and tenon joinery formed at the table saw. I made the table from cedar. For the top, Logan uses Iroku, a tropical hardwood that matches his deck.
Outdoor projects need to withstand harsh conditions. So you want to make sure the materials can take it. Cedar, cypress, and redwood are all solid choices. Their availability depends somewhat on geography. White oak is a domestic hardwood that stands up to the seasons well. You often hear people suggest one wood or the other as a good outdoor candidate because it ages to a “beautiful silvery gray” without a finish. Here’s the thing: every wood species ages to silvery gray when it’s outside.
On interior projects, woodworkers prefer some kind of “forever” finish. You apply it, and the project is good for a lifetime. Outside, there just isn’t that option. Paint looks good for a long time, but the project will need a new coat after a few years — like your house. Clear finishes need attention every 2-3 years depending on your climate. My preference is for oil finishes that don’t build up a film. They can be refreshed with a new coat. It’s turns into a sort of Spring ritual.
The plan shows the process for making a bench that matches the look of the table. But you can just as easily use comfortable chairs, too.
BONUS TIPS: You can build a clever jig to cut smooth tenons at the table saw. The jig slides on your rip fence so adjusting it for an accurate cut is familiar. The design adapts to any saw. A picnic table is the centerpiece of an outdoor living space. To enhance the effect, you can dress it up with a candle lantern or two.
Waiting for glue to flow from the bottom of the glue bottle to the tip is one of my pet peeves in the shop. Instead of waiting, I store a couple bottles in this handy rack that keeps the bottles upside-down so the glue is always ready to go.